Riley Murdock ‘15 – On January 16th, 2015, Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper opened to audiences across the U.S. Despite mixed-to-positive critical acclaim, the movie shattered box office records for the winter release period (December through February), raking in over $90 million in its first weekend. This monumental success was unpredicted and thus has been making headlines and sparking debate about the film’s content. Some consider the movie patriotic and inspiring, while some say that it glorifies war and killing. The truth lies somewhere in between.
The controversy began where modern ones tend to: social media. The debate sparked when filmmaker, screenwriter and actor Seth Rogen tweeted, “American Sniper kind of reminds me of the movie that’s showing in the third act of Inglourious Basterds.” For those who haven’t seen Tarantino’s WWII alternate-history flick, the movie shown in the third act is about a German soldier, whom the Nazi’s consider a “war hero” for killing over 250 allied soldiers. Many have taken offense to Rogen’s comments, including Romeo native Kid Rock, who replied more so with profanity in place of an argument. Other celebrities who have jumped into this debate include Dean Cain, Michael Moore, and Alec Baldwin.
The issues, compounded, seem to be over the discrepancy between who Chris Kyle truly was and how he was portrayed. Some complain that Chris Kyle was a violent man who talked about killing Iraqi “savages”, and that the movie whitewashes his actions. On the other end of the spectrum, some idolize him solely for his bodycount. I believe that both extremes in this debate are misguided, and that the truth lies somewhere near a happy medium.
At the end of the day, however, American Sniper is a movie: it’s value is purely in the form of entertainment. A prevailing controversy is the supposed justness of the war; this is barely questioned. But the movie doesn’t address this because it doesn’t have to. The movie is Kyle’s story, and how he dealt with the situations he was put through. I can’t speak for Chris Kyle because I’ve never met him, not many people can say they have; however, he voiced his opinion on this topic already: “War is hell. Hollywood fantasizes about it and makes it look good…war sucks.”
While Rogen’s comparison is controversial, not only does he have the right to say it, but it has a strain of truth to it: the person fighting for their country is glorified in each. However, war is not a game, war is not entertainment; war is a horrible, horrible thing. American Sniper did a decent job of not glorifying war the way Hollywood sometimes does. Kyle fought for what he believed was right; protecting his comrades grew to a priority. Unfortunately, protecting the lives of some forced him to take the lives of many others. Instead of portraying his exploits in a black and white manner, however, the film details the psychological harm killing does to Kyle. This man did not come out of war unscathed; every time he came home, he was unable to connect with his family, as he was still mentally in Iraq. A piece of him died in the Middle East every time he took a life, or saw one of his men die. American Sniper was an emotionally resonating film that managed to show the sickly underbelly of war, while still giving us reason to look up to those waging it.
We shouldn’t be debating the character of our soldiers; rather, we should be appreciating their sacrifices. War is the problem, not the men fighting them. In any war, both sides are fighting for their ideals, whether or not they believe in what their country is doing; the soldiers should be honored for that. As a staunch pacifist—and as someone who’s father has served in the Navy for two decades, and has seen his cousin deployed to Afghanistan—I fervently await the day where our soldiers are all home and the fighting is over. However, until that day comes, the soldiers fighting these wars deserve respect and appreciation, and denying them that, even if you disagree with the reasons these wars are being fought, is cruel and selfish.
If there’s anything the American populace can learn from this debate, it’s that no matter what your opinion is, you should consider and respect the opposing viewpoint. After all, what makes countries like the U.S. so great is that we’re allowed to have our own thoughts. Men like Chris Kyle fought, and many died for that great and boundless right to free expression, and I believe the best way to honor their sacrifice is to keep letting your voice be heard.
“The movie to me isn’t a commentary on war; it’s about a life, an experience,” teacher David Robertson, a U.S. Army veteran, said.” It’s about the lives of soldiers, and what they go through, and what it’s like to live like they do. I believe in free speech, and the ideals we stand for as a country. In my mind Chris Kyle is a hero.”